Review Summary: "Man, Im still finding songs on it" -Andre 3000
All the great legends are Templates for human behavior. I would define a myth as a story that has survived. – John Boorman
It was the summer of 2004, and I was a fresh High School Graduate. The world was my Oyster, and I was hungry. During that particular summer, I took the opportunity to move to Maryland to live with my Father. It was a lonely time, and I couldn’t have been more depressed with life in general. Just over the bridge was Annapolis, Maryland’s Capitol. This city had the coolest mall I have ever been too, and an awesome music shop. I was already a part-time Prince fan after seeing him perform the best show of my life that August, so my quest for the guy was rather new. I knew this album was a landmark in his otherwise huge portfolio, so I picked it up with high hopes. Just like everyone’s favorite things in life, they are indifferent and overall uninspired with it at first. But I sat with this record, and watched things around me change. To be perfectly blunt, I was finding myself during this time with this album as my soundtrack. I could sit here and tell you what certain songs remind me of what girl I was dating at the time, and how “The Ballad of Dorothy Parker” was on repeat when I found a rebound girl after a messy breakup. But my life is on constant repeat with this album. Even today, with my current situations I could relate to songs on this album that I couldn’t relate to before, and appreciate it more for it. When you have something special, you cherish it. I will own this album until the day I die, and will leave it in my will for my future children to have as well. And while I continue to praise this album like its The Holy Grail, I want to first and foremost share this album with you. If this album can reach out to an 18 year-old male whose favorite record at that point was Pantera’s Far Beyond Driven
, it can do the same for you.
Throughout the years, Prince’s rich body of work has been the subject of both accolade and extreme criticism, and with good reason. Usually, when an artist has the ability to get such a rise from a person, they know what they are doing is both right, and cutting-edge. It is no secret that Prince is often defined as the true pioneer of the 80s. Not only did the man offspring many outlets for musical freedom, but the many copy-cats that tried to emulate his sound failed miserably. His “Minneapolis Sound” with its bare production, and dirty synths basically ruled many of the 80’s clubs. What started with Dirty Mind
, and ended with the mammoth Purple Rain
, Prince’s work during that time is the ultimate standard in both Dance, and Soul.
After the initial response to both Around the World in a Day
, and Parade
was extremely divided, Prince noticed a significant change in his audience. While his Caucasian fan base started to rise, his Black fan base took a tumble. While his popularity was waning, all was also not well within his personal camp. He fired his main songwriting partners Lisa Coleman and Wendy Melvoin (both of whom are owed a significant debt to the sound of that certain album and film of 1984) for two reasons. The first reason was that Prince was engaged to Wendy’s twin sister Susannah Melvoin (his ultimate Muse, which I will touch upon later), and eventually it all fell apart. Secondly, Lisa and Wendy were romantically involved, and this seriously irked Prince. While all that was happening around him was taking a toll emotionally, the man concentrated on what was to be his absolute Masterwork of Holy Proportions. They say that pain and depression create the best art, and a huge album by the name of Sign ‘O’ The Times
was born from the ashes. But with all things Prince, it didn’t quite work out the way he originally intended.
SOTT was created out of three proposed projects. The first project was known as the heavily bootlegged Dream Factory
. Dream Factory was to be a three-lp set of Prince and The Revolution’s finest work. Given the weak sales of Prince’s two albums before this, Warner Brothers flat-out refused. After this commotion was when Prince disbanded The Revolution, and concentrated on project number two AKA Crystal Ball
. While working on this particular set, Prince’s overall attitude towards the world was bleak. He stayed in the studio for days on end, and his work ethic was reaching a peak. During these particular sessions, a Protegee was born. Prince sped the Analog Tape to maximum speed, and sung in a super-slow, incredibly deep voice. This work was known as Camille
, an ultra funky, dirty side of Prince unheard of before and after (see my review for this particular album). He recorded a total of 8 tracks, sent the tapes to WB, and he was granted a catalog number, and release date. However, Prince cancelled the release, took the best songs from said project as well as both Dream Factory
and Crystal Ball
, and was finally granted the permission to release a double album.
Theoretically, SOTT shouldn’t work as an album, given the consequences at hand. Through different sessions, different studios, and different sounds, one would think that it would falter. But with all double albums, the charm is in the vast eclecticism. Double albums are notorious for filler, and to some this album is no exception. Whereas music in general could be the most objective thing ever, if a person doesn’t like a song on this album, they will like at least 4 or 5 others, and I could not be more confident in that statement. This is a messy, unorganized album to the truest sense.
Things get rolling with the epic title track, which happens to hold some of Prince’s best lyrics ever. Chances are you have heard this track before, so you know the impact it contains. With its water-drip synth, and simple guitar licks, Prince’s depression towards the world really shows. But before you can even scratch your head and try to figure what you just heard, what could be Prince’s most pop-orientated song appears. “Play in the Sunshine” could best be described as what the song is called, literally. It’s bright, hyper, and incredibly positive. Fan reaction has always been incredibly divided over this tune, so approach with an open-mind. “Housequake” rips through in the middle of the previous track’s groove, and the track is an absolute classic. If this track can’t make you dance just a little, you are completely devoid of any soul whatsoever. Eric Leeds rips the Sax on this one, and compliments the classic bass line perfectly. Housequake could possibly be Prince’s funkiest jam ever.
Usually, “The Ballad of Dorothy Parker” is looked upon with great respect amongst even non-Prince fans. Once again the man’s lyrics shine through about sitting alone in a diner, and being charmed to death by a Dishwater Blonde Waitress, and eventually getting in a bathtub with the woman but keeping the pants on as he’s with someone already. Brilliant, brilliant music, and the bass line! My goodness! If you’ve never heard this record and are curious, this is the track to search for. “It” follows, and compared to the first four tracks, it doesn’t necessarily resonate. That’s not to say it’s a bad track (there are none), but a tad..Underwhelming. Josh Homme of Kyuss and Queens of the Stone Age fame has covered this before so that should tell you something. “Starfish and Coffee” is one for the books, however. The lyrics seem to deal with a creative retarded girl in elementary school that everyone wants to know more about. They open her lunchbox and find an incredible mix of food. On a side note, Prince performed this song on The Muppet Show in 1996 to great acclaim. As if things couldn’t get any more diverse, we then approach “Slow Love”, a track the late Marvin Gaye would cover. It’s an old-school Soul tune to the truest sense, and only further exemplifies Prince as a songwriter to be reckoned with. “Hot Thing” is wonderful musically, but “Forever in My Life” ends album number one with a touching tribute to his fiancée Susannah Melvoin. The lyrics are incredible backed by a simple drum beat with sparse synths. John F. Kennedy Jr. picked this song as his first dance with his new wife at his wedding.
The first big single of the album is also what opens up album number two with “U Got the Look”, the famous duet with Sheena Easton. Contrary to popular belief, they were not romantically involved as she was married at the time. The most controversial track follows next with “If I was your Girlfriend” featuring the Camille vocals and describes a bit of a role-play change. Ignorance abound, the general public thought Prince was gay in this song as he describes what he would do if his girlfriend and him were just friends and he was a woman. He begs for the intimacy that he sees between what two women friends have with one another, and only feels it would strengthen their relationship. A wonderful song musically and especially lyrically, it almost steals the show. However, I don’t think Prince has written a better conflicting love song than “Strange Relationship”. An incredible song, Prince deals with his different feelings towards Susannah. I’ve said it earlier; Susannah is worshipped in the Prince world as she was the inspiration behind his best songs. I can not stress it enough. I recommend this song highly. Another single follows with “I Could Never Take the Place of your Man”, an upbeat rockabilly track that describes Prince’s unwillingness to share a one-night stand with a lonely woman at a bar. Also worth mentioning is Prince’s wonderful guitar work in this song, something he doesn’t do enough on his recorded output but has plenty of in his live work.
Things get heavy with “The Cross”, and Prince once again shows off his guitar skills. While I’m not personally a Spiritual person, this song is rather powerful about his relationship with God. Prince always speaks of his Faith, and this is one of his best songs that describe it. While we have the guitar-heavy track, things get funky with “It’s Gonna be a Beautiful Night”, a track recorded with The Revolution at one of their last concerts in Paris and overdubbed heavily in the studio. Worth mentioning is the ever-reliable sax skills of Eric Leeds as he thoroughly tears this sucker up. I usually insist upon hearing this song if I’m in the car and this album is playing. One of the best tracks on this album, it shows the incredible atmosphere of what it’s like to see Prince perform.
And then, we end with “Adore”. Adore is the ultimate Valentine’s Day song, and possibly the ultimate love song ever. His devotion to his love Susannah shines through in this track, and one can finally see what this woman did to his work emotionally (Until the end of time, Ill be there for you. You own my heart and mind, I truly adore you. If God one day struck me blind, you’re beauty Id still see. Loves too weak to define just what you mean to me
). Say that to your significant other and I bet my bottom dollar they will melt.
Like a photograph, this album captured a happy moment in time for many people. One could possibly say this album defines the man we once again call Prince. Prince was always incredibly difficult to pigeonhole, and he wouldn’t want it any other way. Not only did he receive an incredible amount of praise from fans and critics alike, he also received back his Black Audience and further strengthened his White Audience as well. And as for me and the other Prince knuckleheads out there, we all basically regard this as his Masterpiece. It just goes to show that when an album comes along at a perfect moment in time, it can change your life and the way you perceive music forever. This album is my soundtrack, and hopefully it could be yours. “If you set your mind free baby, maybe youde understand